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David Littleproud labels release of water storage images 'premature and incorrect'

Tim Fookes and Lara Webster, Tuesday October 22, 2019 - 15:56 EDT

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) will be investigated over the during a pumping embargo in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Last week, which showed full or partially-full water storages in western New South Wales during the embargo in April and May this year.

The release of the images has angered irrigator groups and a Federal National MP.

The Minister for Water Resources, David Littleproud, has asked the Murray-Darling Inspector General to investigate the publishing of the Northern Basin water monitoring report, claiming it was released "prematurely" and the information is "incorrect".

"We want the public to have the full picture of how this happened," he said.

"The public needs to have confidence in the MDBA and this will hold them to account."

Interim Murray-Darling Inspector-General Mick Keelty will lead the investigation, which will look at what led to the release of the report, the MDBA's response to the release and the adequacy of the Authority to manage the release of compliance and enforcement.

The report is due back at the end of November.

Irrigators react

Irrigator groups in NSW have criticised the release of the satellite images.

Macquarie Food and Fibre chief executive, Grant Trantor, said the MDBA should have checked its facts before publishing the photos, which included a showground, an effluent plant, a racecourse and a pond in a park.

"The Authority is out of touch with local communities and the latest blunder is a kick in the guts as they had no warning or consultation prior to the release."

Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said the release of the images implies farmers have acted illegally.

"If illegal behaviour has occurred, they should be charged with the full force of the law," he said.

"But until an investigation takes place, these people should be presumed innocent like everyone else in Australia is."

Investigation welcomed

Executive officer of Border Rivers Food and Fibre, Tim Napier, said he supported an investigation and the premature release of the report was a symptom of a broader issue within the MDBA.

"The investigation, if there is to be one, has to be around the competence of the management of the MDBA not just around the report," he said.

"The way this report has been managed is laughable … it seems to be a thinly-veiled political swipe, another water grab, by an authority that is meant to be independent and accountable to the government of the day.

"Transparency is absolutely paramount.

"We, as an industry, have long demanded transparency of ourselves and that must also be the case with those government authorities whose job it is to try and manage these systems."

Mr Napier said irrigators were not being given a chance to prove their innocence.

"This evidence has been put out there with commentary around presumptions of guilt and it very much puts the industry in place of guilty until proven innocent," he said.

"You can imagine the uproar if the tax office was to release some half-completed investigations."


© ABC 2019

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